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Compounding Heatwave-Extreme Rainfall Events Driven by Fronts, High Moisture, and Atmospheric Instability

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Hayley Fowler


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© 2023. The Authors.Heatwaves have been shown to increase the likelihood and intensity of extreme rainfall occurring immediately afterward, potentially leading to increased flood risk. However, the exact mechanisms connecting heatwaves to extreme rainfall remain poorly understood. In this study, we use weather type data sets for Australia and Europe to identify weather patterns, including fronts, cyclones, and thunderstorm conditions, associated with heatwave terminations and following extreme rainfall events. We further analyze, using reanalysis data, how atmospheric instability and moisture availability change before and after the heatwave termination depending on whether the heatwave is followed by extreme rainfall, as well as the location of the heatwave. We find that most heatwaves terminate during thunderstorm and/or frontal conditions. Additionally, atmospheric instability and moisture availability increase several days before the heatwave termination; but only if heatwaves are followed by extreme rainfall. We also find that atmospheric instability and moisture after a heatwave are significantly higher than expected from climatology for the same time of the year, and that highest values of instability and moisture are associated with highest post-heatwave rainfall intensities. We conclude that the joint presence of high atmospheric instability, moisture, as well as frontal systems are likely to explain why rainfall is generally more extreme and likely after heatwaves, as well as why this compound hazard is mainly found in the non-arid mid and high latitudes. An improved understanding of the drivers of these compound events will help assess potential changing impacts in the future.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Sauter C, Catto JL, Fowler HJ, Westra S, White CJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Year: 2023

Volume: 128

Issue: 21

Print publication date: 16/11/2023

Online publication date: 28/10/2023

Acceptance date: 20/09/2023

ISSN (print): 2169-897X

ISSN (electronic): 2169-8996

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Inc


DOI: 10.1029/2023JD038761


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